Headed into high school at Indian River, playing collegiate lacrosse wasn’t much of a thought for Erik Gulbronson.
Sure, he had played some as a kid growing up in Wilmington, and even in a few rec leagues around Berlin, Md., when he eventually moved to the area. However, not only was no one else in his family involved in the sport, but at the time, the Indians didn’t even have a team.
That all changed Gulbronson’s freshman year, when that spring he became a member of the first-ever lacrosse team at Indian River High School. Now, just four years later, he finds himself continuing to help pioneer the program as one of its first to go on to play in the NCAA.
“My class is the first year that’s been able to play a full four years of lacrosse. I think it’s so cool to be able to be a part of that,” Gulbronson said. “Then to be one of the first people on the team to be able to go on and play in college — it’s just a really cool feeling.”
Gulbronson will take his talents to Randolph College in Virginia next fall, as he announced on Thursday, Feb. 4, in front of friends, family and teammates. But after all the excitement was over, and the goal that he had set for himself was officially accomplished, he looked back on the moment when that goal all started.
“It was after we had played Milford,” Gulbronson recalled. “I don’t know what it was. I think I had gotten extra playing time on the varsity, and I felt really good about it. I was thinking, ‘Man, I think I could actually go somewhere with this.’ That’s when it really started out for me.”
After that game, Gulbronson sought the advice of IR head coach Jim Dietsch — who, after coaching at the collegiate level for decades and playing at the University of Maryland himself, was, of course, familiar with the recruitment process and happy to help.
“He was such a big help to me,” Gulbronson said of Dietsch’s influence. “He sent me packets. He wrote me a recommendation letter. He did everything. He and my parents were such a big help. Without them, I don’t think I could have done it.”
During his sophomore season, Gulbronson played both long-pole midfield and close defense, while splitting time between the JV and varsity — a squad that featured mostly seniors and finished 9-6, making school history by qualifying for the DIAA playoffs. Last season, as a junior, he moved to full-time varsity and helped lead a young squad, consistently being called upon to match up against the opposing teams’ best midfielder.
“He’s a great kid. You talk about attitude and effort, and that’s him,” said Dietsch. “Very reliable and dependable. I don’t know if he’s missed a day of practice since he’s been there. He’s come to every one of them. The [Randolph] coach is gonna love him.”
After visiting the school, where he got to know the team and head coach Andy Sinclair, Gulbronson was instantly sold. But he said that it was more than just athletics that influenced his decision. Not only was he drawn to the campus feel and allure of both a small city and mountainous terrain, but, more importantly, the school’s small class sizes and emphasis on academics sealed the deal.
“That was a big deciding factor. Coach Sinclair is really, really tough on academics,” Gulbronson explained. “You’re definitely a student first and then a player.”
Gulbronson plans to major in history and hopes to be able push the subject’s importance in some capacity one day. But after volunteering for Dietsch’s “Tribe Lacrosse” youth program, and after making to the collegiate level in the sport, against what would appear to be significant odds considering the circumstances, he’s also hoping to continue advocating the sport at the local level.
“The lacrosse community is so cool. Anybody can play. Once you understand the sport, it’s so much fun,” he said. “The soccer team has River Soccer. To be able to see we’re almost starting get a feeder program like the soccer team has been really rewarding.
“I think [at IR] we’re finally getting to that point where we have a basis of people that want to play and are able to now start getting a solid team every year. It’s really getting there.”